What is Color Space?

Color Space is a defined range of color values that will be displayed. All possible producible colors live inside of it. It is important in filmmaking because it represents the color capabilities of footage. It’s kind of like an artist’s color palette. You are only able utilize the colors available on the little wooden palette in front of you.

Color Space Picture, illustrated

Lost in Color Space: The Science in a Color Gamut

Color space is a bit more fine-tuned than an artist’s color palette though. First, colors space is a scientific approach to color. It defines colors with actual numbers. Secondly, it is a 3-dimensial gamut which contains every possible color combination in the defined range. In this 3D color space, colors are located by moving between scales of lightness, saturation, and hue.

Color Space and Color Grading

Color Space is utilized throughout the film production chain. It’s essential in camera profiles, monitors, editing and color grading software, and final delivery devices, like projectors, monitors, and TV displays. Because I am here to help filmmakers with color grading, I want to focus on color space’s role for image manipulation (i.e. color grading & color correction). So I‘ll focus on color space as it relates to capturing footage and color grading it.

Types of Color Spaces

There are two important color spaces to know about with color grading footage: Rec 709 or Log. These are the most common color spaces any filmmaker will encounter.

Rec 709

Rec 709 is the standard color space viewing format for a final image. It’s what monitors are set to and what they expect to see form cameras. Most cameras can shoot in Rec 709, and the image you see on the monitor while shooting is what you will work with when grading. In post, you can do some color grading to push the image certain ways, but the amount of manipulation you can make is limited compared to Log C.

Log C

Log C is a wider range color array than REC 709. With it, you are able to play with your camera’s full image-capturing potential. Log C allows you to move much deeper into the highlight and shadows of your image. Right out of the camera, Log C looks very desaturated and muddy, but that’s a good thing. It is a flat profile, which gives you the widest tonal range to work with. With it, you can stretch the colors, contrast, and saturation in your image to great lengths.

LUTs and Color Space

LUTs should correlate with the color space footage was shot in. Footage shot in REC 709 should used REC 709 LUTs. Log C footage should use Log C LUTs. If you want to learn more about LUTs, check out our write up for “What is a LUT?